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Unnabho Brahmano Sutta

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Unnabho Brahmano Sutta: The Brahman Unnabha
translated from the Pali by
Maurice O'Connell Walshe

[At Saavatthii the Brahman U.n.naabha said to the Buddha:] "There are these five sense faculties, good Gotama, of different spheres, different action, and they do not share in each other's sphere of action. Which five? The sense of sight, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching.[1] As these five faculties are of different scope and range, and do not share in each other's sphere of action, what is their resort,[2] and who profits from their combined activity?"[3]

"There are, Brahman, these five sense-faculties... which do not share in each other's sphere of action. Mind is their resort, and it is mind that profits from their combined activity."

"But, good Gotama, what is mind's resort?"

"Mind's resort, Brahman, is mindfulness."[4]

"Then, good Gotama, what is the resort of mindfulness?"[5]

"The resort of mindfulness, Brahman, is liberation."

"Then, good Gotama, what is the resort of liberation?"

"The resort of liberation is Nibbaana."

"Then, good Gotama, what is the resort of Nibbaana?"

"That question goes too far Brahman. No answer can encompass it. The aim of the holy life, Brahman, is immersion[6] in Nibbaana, it has Nibbaana for its final end, Nibbaana for its conclusion."

The Brahman U.n.naabha was delighted with the words of the Blessed One and rejoiced in them. He rose, saluted the Blessed One and departed. Not long after his departure the Blessed One said to the monks:

"Monks, imagine a house or a pavilion with a peaked roof, with a window to the east. When the sun rises and its rays strike through the window, what do they rest on?"

"On the western wall, Lord."

"Just so, monks, the faith of the Brahman U.n.naabha is settled on the Tathaagata, rooted in him, established in him. It is strong, and cannot be uprooted by any recluse or Brahman, deva or Maara, Brahmaa or anyone else in the world.

"Monks, if the Brahman U.n.naabha were to die now,[7] there is no fetter to bind the Brahman U.n.naabha and cause him to return to this world."[8]


1. These are, of course, the five senses recognized in the West, to which Buddhism adds mind as the sixth.

2. "Resort" is a somewhat desperate attempt (after Woodward) to find an equivalent. Probably not from "refuge" but from sarati2 (Pali English Dictionary, PTS) in the sense of "referring back." Woodward refers to pa.tisaarino in DN 3, ch. I, verse 28 (final verse) (see Dialogues of the Buddha, PTS, vol. i, p. 122 n. 3). The word is rendered "repository" by I. B. Horner for MN 43 (MLS [[[Middle Length Sayings]], 1954, PTS] i. 355). In a somewhat similar context in MN 44, pa.tibhaaga ("counterpart": I. B. Horner, MLS i, 367) is used.

3. At first glance one might suppose that U.n.naabha was either thinking in terms of a "self" or trying to trap the Buddha into admitting the existence of one, but since we learn that he was an anaagaamin (n. 8), this is not so. Cf. SN 22.89.

4. This may in effect be a play on words, since here can well be taken as "protection," i.e., differently derived from that in n. 2. Something of the effect could be achieved by rendering above: "to what (or whom) do the faculties report?, and here: "to what (whom) does mind resort (for protection)?"

5. Here rather in the sense of n. 2. Cf. the discussion by Mrs Rhys Davids in Buddhist Psychological Ethics (, PTS, 1900, 1974), introduction, p. lxxxvii.

6. The "immersion" is of course metaphorical, since there is nothing, and nobody, that "enters" Nibbaana! We may compare the well-known concluding line of Sir Edwin Arnold's The Light of Asia:

"The dewdrop slips into the shining sea."

7. Woodward translates too literally "were to make an end," which suggests suicide. This is not implied by kaala.m kareyya, which is merely an idiomatic expression for dying.

8. This means that he is an anaagaamin or "Non-Returner" who, having destroyed the five lower fetters (see Vol. I, n. 83), will not return to this world.